Encounters by Jason Wallace (Andersen) is a story of layers and discovery. Each chapter covers the same time period told from the point of view of different characters. Their stories overlap and as a reader you learn more details as you see events from different perspectives. It raises the question of reliable witnesses and trustworthy storytellers and reminds you that each character is telling their story from their own ideological viewpoint. It’s an interesting technique that I found challenging as a reader – the first character was particularly unlikeable and hard to read and there were other characters I didn’t want to leave behind – but it was ultimately rewarding as all the viewpoints built and layered, drawing you further into the story.
‘Zimbabwe, 1994. A group of children spot peculiar lights in the sky over the grounds of their school. From this moment on, six young people’s lives are changed forever. Gary hides the anguish he feels now his mum’s left, acting out in fury and hatred. Chloe has no words for the thing she fears most every day. Karl is the headmaster’s son, now fallen from grace. Tendai knows he can never live up to his grieving father’s ideals. And Sixpence watches all, knowing he’ll never be like these other children. All of them have seen something they can’t explain. In amongst these tangled, tortured lives, comes a group of psychologists to verify the spookily similar claims of every witness. Their daughter, Holly, can tell there’s more to it than aliens or mass hysteria – can she reveal the dark truths that haunt them? Inspired by true accounts, this is the long-awaited new novel from Costa-award-winner Jason Wallace.’
Encounters is full of ideas of abuse and trauma and inequality. It doesn’t provide answers, rather it shows how people’s lives are affected. It lays the foundations and lets the reader find their own position.
This is by no means an easy book to read. At times it is almost Brechtian in it’s difficulties. But it has a lot to say and it has left me thoughtful and wiser and glad that I gave it the time it deserved.
You can get your copy here.
Source – review e-copy kindly sent by Penguin Random House.